Having 'A Place in the Sun' next to Liz

I felt sad on Wednesday when I had learned that actress Elizabeth Taylor had died.

She was a classmate of mine in the fifth-grade at Hawthorne Grammar School in Beverly Hills, along with Paul Marx, now an attorney who also lives here in Newport Beach. The three of us appeared in a class photo together.

In the picture she's sitting in the front row, and Paul and I are standing in the back. Hollywood had not yet discovered Elizabeth.

At that time, in the early 1940s, Paul and I had no interest in girls. Soon after our class picture was taken, Elizabeth was gone. We next saw her in the 1944 movie "National Velvet."

She returned to our class at Hawthorne Grammar School in the eighth grade.

In assigning classroom seats for the school year, our teacher, Mrs. Jameson, seated me just in front of Elizabeth, because students were assigned seats by alphabetical order.

But I was terribly self-conscious then because I had developed severe acne on the back of my neck. I repeatedly begged Mrs. Jameson to please seat me behind Elizabeth, but the teacher refused.

Every day that I had to sit in that seat, it was a constant reminder to me of my imperfection. I would wear a jacket to class and pull up the collar to hide the back of my neck.

By eighth-grade, all of us boys realized that we had this beautiful young woman in our class. We all wanted to get her attention. We would even sit on the curb across the street from her house on weekends, hoping that she would notice us.

I followed Elizabeth's career rise, her marriages to celebrities, her increasing beauty and her acting ability.

In 1961, while I was serving in the U.S. Army, I considered sending her a get-well card when she was seriously ill in Italy, but I never did, thinking that she wouldn't remember me.

Over the years I watched this shy young girl in my fifth-grade class become one of the most beautiful women in the world that we all admired for her acting ability, her strength for dealing with personal adversity, and her efforts to make this world a better place.

I wish I had conveyed my feelings to her in a personal letter, but I thought that she never would have remembered that boy with acne on his neck that sat in front of her in the eighth grade. With her death, this world seems a little smaller.

JACK SKINNER, 79, is a doctor of internal medicine who used to practice at Hoag Hospital. He lives in Newport Beach.

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